The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 90

 

Aston Villa 1-2 Sheffield United

Third Round: Sunday January 4th 2014

Villa Park, Birmingham

Attendance: 24,038

Scorers: Jamie Murphy {20}, Niklas Helenius {75}, Ryan Flynn {81}

A flood surge brought severe flooding to vast areas of Britain from Scotland to Cornwall, England suffered the final nail in a humiliating Ashes whitewash in Australia, Pharrell Williams was 'Happy' atop the UK pop charts, Kristen Bell and Josh Gad lent their voices to Disney's latest Christmas hit animation as Anna and Kristoff embarked on an epic journey through eternal winter in 'Frozen', Benedict Cumberbatch came back from the dead for the second series of 'Sherlock' while the music world mourned the passing of Phil Everley.

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert was learning the hard way that you must be careful what you say to the media. In an interview after Aston Villa's New Year's Day victory at Sunderland, Lambert suggested that the upcoming cup tie with struggling Sheffield United was a distraction that his team didn't need in their bid to retain their Premiership status and that most managers would say the same about the F A cup. The comment blew up in his face in remarkable fashion as the managers of all of the clubs sitting occupying the top six places in the Premier League came out strongly to defend the competition and express their desire to win it. Those managers further down the Premier League were admittedly less vocal, neither backing nor slating Lambert who became the focus of the preview programmes on Saturday morning and led many pundits to predict a cupset for visiting Sheffield United, themselves struggling in League One.

There was however support that the cup tie was coming on the back of a hectic Christmas schedule where most clubs were now facing their fifth game in a fortnight. Critics equally pointed to the fact that, in an era of the modern squad system the clubs should be able to rotate and cope easily with this schedule.

A Wigan newspaper was quick to respond to the idea that the cup was a nuisance by polling over 5,000 Wigan Athletic fans on the subject. They had watched their side win the cup in May, their first and only major honour but it came at the price of relegation from the top flight and the loss of their manager and many top players. Promotion back to the top flight was very much in the balance when they were asked would they swap that day at Wembley to still be among the elite. Not a single fan said yes, many going on to say that winning the cup was something they could cherish forever.

Up in Sheffield, Lambert's counterpart, Nigel Clough was remaining tight lipped on the issue. His United team had faced the same schedule as Villa but perhaps could accept that relegation from League One did not carry with it the same financial implications as relegation from the Premier League. Just seven years earlier United themselves had fallen from the promised land and now were battling against the drop into the Football League's basement. Five points from twelve at Christmas was an okay return in the circumstances but kept them just a point clear of the dreaded drop zone and a return to a level of Football United had last endured over thirty years earlier. Defeat at Walsall on New Year's Day however had ended an eight game unbeaten run.

Clough was the second generation of the famous Footballing family, his father Brian having a been a prolific striker whose career had been cut short by injury before it really had the chance to take off. Nigel grew up in the days when Clough senior was in his pomp at Derby and Nottingham Forest with a stint at Leeds so infamous that a Movie was made about it. Nigel himself broke into the playing ranks at Nottingham Forest during his father's tenure, though if anything being the son of 'ole big ed' made it harder rather than easier for him. As a player himself, Clough won two League cup winners medals at Forest and played fourteen times for England before going into management himself in non league. His father died before seeing Nigel follow in his footsteps by taking charge at Derby but he had a thankless task in trying to match his father's achievement of taking them from second tier to champions and indeed was best remembered for being on the wrong end of a cupset to non League Crawley in 2009. Clough started this season at Pride Park but was fired in September after mixed results.

He was out of work for less than a month before struggling Sheffield United of League One asked for his services. Having been in charge for just three months, his task to date was simply to avoid relegation. His team was an inherited one from David Weir but there was no doubt that results had marginally improved over his twelve weeks in the hot seat.

Going into the cup tie at Villa, Clough was lacking in big time experience with no veterans in the twilight of a career in the highest level to call upon. The closest he had was Tony McMahon, who had been tipped for great things at Middlesbrough a decade earlier before injuries hampered his career. Curiously McMahon was one of five men in Clough's squad to have played in the UEFA Europa League. The other four were Jose Baxter, a promising youngster at Everton who held the record of being their youngest ever player in a competitive game. Baxter however walked away from a life on the fringes of a top flight club to try his hand in the lower divisions and already had a memorable cup scalp of Liverpool when playing for Oldham in the previous season's competition.

Conor Coady came from the other half of the Merseyside divide and was still on loan from his parent club where he too played in Europe as well as a solitary game in the top flight. Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy had represented Scottish Premier League clubs Falkirk and Motherwell respectively in Europe before coming south to the lower leagues while Stephen McGinn also played in the SPL for St Mirren. Matt Hill was the fourth and only other member of the squad with top flight experience, gained in two appearances for Wolves, whom he helped to win the second tier. His team mate in that promotion, Neill Collins had been less fortunate, having twice won promotion to the big time only to be deemed surplus to requirements by both teams he helped promote.

The only International on the team was Michael Doyle who represented the Republic of Ireland once, eight years earlier during a long career mostly in the second tier. Completing Clough's starting eleven for the game at Villa were regular keeper, Chris Long, a loyal servant and one club man, Chris Porter who by contrast was a journeyman with a string of lower league clubs to his belt, and finally the highly thought of youngster, Harry Maguire, tipped as a player with the potential to make it to the big time.

By the time they arrived at Villa Park, Paul Lambert's comments made them the pundits defenders of the traditions of the cup and it was now something of a duty for them to go out and remove Lambert's "distraction that he didn't need."

Lambert, who in his playing days won the Champions League at Borussia Dortmund, wasn't taking anything lightly, regardless of, or perhaps even because of the comments in the press, He made just four changes to his side that had won three days earlier at Sunderland.

As was now tradition among Premier League managers, regular goalkeeper, Brad Guzan stepped down to give game time to his understudy, Jed Steer, still a relative youngster in goalkeeping terms and yet to play in the Premier League. The ten players in front of him were all highly experienced and regular members of Lambert's team during the season, the only notable fit absentee from the squad being forward Gabby Agbonlahor .

A crowd of just over 24,000, well down on Villa's normal League average 37,000 attendances suggested that the fans of the club shared Paul Lambert's seeming disinterest in the cup, something that bemused most as the club were lying eleventh in the Premier League, albeit just six points clear of the drop zone but surely the cup provided the fans with their one chance of something to cheer about?

The stage was set at a half empty Villa Park, where ITV's cameras were there to see what happened.

 There was very little sympathy among public and supporters of other clubs for Villa in light of pre match comments, although Paul Lambert was quick to come out after the game to say he had been heavily misquoted and that his team selection showed how seriously he had taken the cup tie but he struck the figure of a manager, very much with the weight of the world on his shoulders. His team were booed from the field but the Villa fans in attendance could also lay questions at their 13,000 fellow supporters who found something else to do rather than go along and support their team. In fairness to Villa, and the many other clubs who played that weekend in half empty stadiums, attendances in the third round of the cup remained relatively similar to what hey had been since the early seventies at most grounds but Premier League attendances had risen and all seated stadia made the grounds look more empty than back in the days of open terraces.

Villa: 13:Jed Steer, 14:Antonio Luna, 24:Aleksandar Tonev, [9:Niklas Helenius -60], 15:Ashley Westwood, 6:Ciaran Clark, 34:Matthew Lowton, 7:Leandro Bacuna, 16:Fabian Delph, 20:Christian Benteke, 12:Marc Albrighton, 10:Andreas Weimann ;Manager: Paul Lambert

United: 25:George Long, 29:Tony McMahon, 6:Matt Hill, 14:Stephen McGinn, 15:Neil Collins, 5:Harry Maguire, 7:Ryan Flynn, 8:Michael Doyle, 9:Chris Porter [32: Terry Kennedy -90+1], 11:Jose Baxter [17:Conor Coady -80], 23:Jamie Murphy [12: Shaun Miller -90+2], Manager: Nigel Clough  

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 106

Fulham 0-1 Sheffield United

Fourth Round replay: Tuesday February 4th 2014 {After Extra Time}

Craven Cottage, London 

Attendance: 10,139

Scorer: Shaun Miller {120}

Terrible storms and flooding continued to rage over southern Britain with the iconic Dawlish railway being washed away, many world leaders opted to bypass the opening ceremony of the Soochi Winter Olympics over controversy regarding Russia's gay rights laws,  Jesse Glynn featured on Clean Bandit's chart topper 'Rather Be', Leonardo DiCaprio starred alongside Jonah Hill, telling the story of Jordan Belfort's hectic 1980s and 90s rise to millionaire stockbroker and then criminal in 'The Wolf of Wall Street', Kris Marshall had taken over from Ben Miller in the lead role of an English police detective working on a fictional Caribbean island in 'Death in Paradise'  and the movie world was rocked by the death of Oscar winning actor, Philip Seymour-Hoffmann from a drug overdose.

The draw for round four gave United and their fans yet another mouth watering cup tie, this time against the winner or the replay between top flight strugglers, Norwich and Fulham. It was the latter who, perhaps a little surprisingly prevailed given that they avoided defeat just seven times in their twenty-one league games so far. That poor form cost manager, Martin Jol his job earlier in the season and now Fulham were under the guidance of former Manchester United coach, Rene Mulensteen in what had been a surprise appointment. 

New manager syndrome failed to have the hoped for affect on the club and the Cottagers travelled to Bramall Lane hovering dangerously just outside the Premier League drop zone. Nigel Clough brought John Brayford, a loanee from Premier League Cardiff, for whom he never played in the top flight, into the starting eleven and in front of the live TV cameras, United could feel mightily unlucky not to pull off a cupset. The Blades deservedly took the lead through Chris Porter just after the half hour mark only for a moment of madness from club captain, Michael Doyle, early in the second half to undermine all their hard work when he lashed out and got himself sent off. With ten men, United were forced back and fifteen minutes from the end Hugo Rodallega scored an equaliser that had been coming for some time. 

Fulham though were unable to kick on and win the tie, giving United a deserved replay in London. The Cottagers lost both of their next league games to take their league pointless run to four, the last three without scoring. It also planted them firmly at the foot of the table and made them prime candidates for a cup upset. That said, United were little better, having taken just a point from their last four games and were sitting second bottom of League One. Hardly a team in cup upset form but tell that to Aston Villa fans. Nigel Clough had previously rested key players to concentrate on their League form but now he opted for strength, bringing back first choice keeper, Mark Howard along with Bob Harris and Stefan Scougall. With stormy weather closing in, the two strugglers kicked off at Craven Cottage in front of a paltry crowd.   

For Rene Meulensteen he had to confess that his club had sunk to rock bottom while the press began to speculate if he might survive in his relatively new post to the end of the season. Nigel Clough meanwhile now had a fifth round to prepare for and when his former club, Championship promotion chasers and fellow giant killers, Nottingham Forest won through their replay, a little luckily against Preston the following night. United had cup fever and when they defeated Forest 3-1 it only grew stronger. Especially when the luck of the draw ensured United avoided the big guns and instead would play Championship Charlton. Their match was second up in the live televised schedule of the four quarter finals and rather unfairly the most ignored, which was not helped by a very dull first half before United took a grip on the game to secure a 2-0 victory and a fourth cup victory over a side in a higher league. The players watched from their dressing room celebrations when they were paired with Hull in the semi finals. The Tigers were a decent Premier League outfit who played well enough to ensure they were safe from relegation but much of that was pointed at two strikers signed in January who were both cup tied for Wembley. The United fans were allowed to dream of being the first third level cup finalist for over a century, taking the lead through Jose Baxter and then regaining it through Stefan Scougall, barely a minute after Hull had equalised. They led at half time but Hull turned on their Premiership ability in the second half and were two goals in front within fifteen minutes of the restart. A Jamie Murphy goal in the final minute threatened a grandstand finish but Hull responded in a professional manner to restore their two goal lead in one of the greatest semi finals of the twenty-first century in which there were no losers. Hull had their first cup final but the United fans had a memorable day at Wembley and a great performance with it. United also made a mockery of the idea that a good cup run affects league form as they had gone from relegation candidates on third round day to one of the in form League One sides by semi final day.  

Fulham: 13:David Stockdale, 46:Josh Passley, 35:Fernando Amorebieta, 28:Scott Parker {7:Steve Sidwell-69}, 5:Brede Hangeland, 33:Dan Burn, 8:Pajtim Kasami, 43:Muamer Tankovic, 20:Hugo Radallega {24:Ashkan Dejagah-59}, 32:Clint Dempsey, 11:Alexander Kacaniklic {16:Damien Duff-59}, Manager Rene Meulensteen

United: 1:Mark Howard, 4:John Brayford, 3:Bob Harris, {Matt Hill-90} 14:Stephen McGinn, 5:Harry Maguire, 15:Neil Collins, 7:Ryan Flynn, 17:Conor Coady, 9:Chris Porter, {11:Jose Baxter-75}, 21:Stefan Scougall, {12: Shaun Miller-97}, 23:Jamie Murphy, Manager: Nigel Clough  

 

Members Area

Newest Members